A healthy human spine has subtle curvatures, but sometimes those curves are severe, excessive or visibly misshapen. This is a spinal deformity and can be present in both children and adults in a variety of ways, including:
- Uneven shoulders
- Unbalanced hips
- Visible protrusion on upper back
- Misalignment of the head over the middle of the body
When viewed from behind, the spine should run straight down the middle of the back. When deformities occur, the natural curvatures are irregular and can result in a variety of conditions, such as scoliosis or kyphosis.
Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spine to curve to the side. It can affect any part of the spine, but the most common areas are the chest and the lower back. Scoliosis can occur in children, adolescents and adults. Most cases are mild and can be easier to treat when caught early.
- Reduced range of motion
- Changes in gait or walking
- Breathing trouble
- Back pain that increases over time
A physical exam of your spine is the first step to see if you have scoliosis. Your doctor may also order imaging tests including X-rays, a CT scan or MRI to get a better look at your spine.
The primary treatment options for scoliosis are bracing and physical therapy. A back brace can’t straighten the spine, but it can prevent the curvature from getting worse, and can give you some pain relief. This treatment is more effective for cases detected early. If scoliosis continues to get worse and bracing and/or physical therapy is not working for the patient or interrupting your daily life or causing you discomfort, surgery may be considered.
Kyphosis, also known as having a rounded back or hunchback, is a condition in which the spine in the upper back has an excessive curvature. Patients are often unable to stand up straight and walk in a forward-flexed posture. Kyphosis can occur at any age, but often seen in older women suffering from osteoporosis.
- Visible hump on upper back
- Slouching appearance
- Rounding of shoulders
- Breathing difficulties
Similar to scoliosis, your doctor will first perform a physical exam. You may then undergo imaging tests to determine what treatment options are best for you.
In general, treatment is determined based on the severity of your spinal curvature disorder. A mild case of postural kyphosis may just need physical therapy or not need any treatment at all. More severe cases may require the use of a back brace or surgery if pain or discomfort gets worse.